Most people, when they think of Thailand, picture long stretches of sandy beaches, crystal-clear blue waters and wooden swings hanging from reclining palm trees. I wouldn’t blame them. In fact, I have no idea what made me decide, when I grew sick of the sweltering heat of Bangkok, to travel the opposite direction from any beaches at all.
I hopped on the overnight train to Chiang Mai in search for cooler, greener, quieter landscapes. Nomadic exploration by land may well be cheaper but it suits only those with a good deal of time and patience in their hands. I estimated, by looking at the movement of trees from the window, that we travelled at approximately 30km/hour for the entire journey. But here, it still gets folks from A to B, so that’s what matters isn’t it. And it gives passengers extra time to get to know each other, tell stories, share travel tips, and play a few games of Uno (which I’ve learned to be a rather international hit, you go figure).
If you look at the map of Chiang Mai, the town is literally shaped like a square. Proper 90-degree angles, four equal sides and all that. These are the old city walls that separate the old town, within which most people settle down for exploration, from the new city with its sprawling street markets. If you’re into any sort of tidbits, pop across for a bargain. The beating heart of the town however lies within the old walls. The fruit markets (I literally lived on dragon fruit for days), the quiet bars, the sprawling temple grounds.
I met two teenage monks at the Wat Prasat temple who literally worshipped Kanye West. That 'jeen-yuhs' (sic.) has a far-reaching fandom, I’ve got to give it to him.
No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without a songthaew (red truck) ride out to the Wat Phra That temple on the Doi Suthep mountain. During sunset prayer the monks allow visitors to sit in and listen to the chants – literally be like a fly on the wall though, do not move, do not speak, keep your phone tucked away and just absorb everything. Meditate, if you can.
Other activities in Chiang Mai include visits to elephant sanctuaries (but DO do your research into their legitimacy please), jungle treks, Thai cooking classes (mango sticky rice get in mah belly). When in Chiang Mai, you just slow down, take a full immersion into the incredible Thai culture and pay your respects to the sprawling amount of temples around you.